Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Black Swan Event in Westminster?

A former colleague of mine, David Zolkwer, shared the theory of Black Swan Events with me a few weeks ago. For those of you who aren't lucky enough to have worked with such brilliant people as Mister Zolkwer, and therefore have no idea what a Black Swan Event is, here's are the three characteristics that define it:

1. It is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
2. It carries an extreme impact.
3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
[Taken from the New York Times]

The notion of it is incredibly fascinating. I find the third characteristic especially intriguing. In fact, it's made me question things in life that seem to have an obvious cause - could the cause actually be a Black Swan?

All of this thinking accompanied me to Westminster on Monday night.

A group of bloggers (you can see the lovely group in the picture - links to blogs at the bottom of this post) were invited to join an MP to discuss the vote on CO2 emissions taking place later this year. The vote will decide whether to replace the 60% targetted cut in CO2 emissions by 2050 with a tougher 80% target, which is supported by environmental groups and leading scientists.

There are umpteen reasons for MPs to vote for this tougher target. But according to our host, Steve Webb, these reasons are not enough. In fact, he told us that apart from those who were going to vote against the amendement, there were others who are still unsure of how to vote and there are a few who wouldn't vote at all. Together, we worked on how best to target MPs by using the one thing that really influences them (i.e. their voting block) to make them do the right thing.

We haven't reached a final conclusion yet (and I will continue to post updates as we solidify our thinking) but we know that it will include some of the things that we were surprised to learn. Like the fact that anyone can make an appointment to see their local MPs. And how voting on things like this really works: which is more about fitting in than standing out for those MPs trying to climb the "bureaucratic ladder".

Of course, I was delighted to be involved in such a democratic conversation and would like to thank Steve Webb and Mark Hanson for making it all happen.

As I left I couldn't help but think we could have all just attended a Black Swan Event. You see, if we do work together - and what we do actually works - 2050 will be a very different world to the one we're aiming for at the moment.

And I guess, in 2050 people might talk about the bill and remember how people 'voted to do the right thing', when in fact a large part of what happened started when a group of citizens/bloggers got together in Westminster to talk about how they could influence the vote of the people who represent them.

Here's the list of fellow bloggers - do pay them a visit:

John Grant
Chris Anderson
Beth Tilston
Tom Fishburne
Judit Jakab
Dave Birss
Asi Sharabi
Leonora Oppenheim

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